Saturday 1 May 2021

Mary Lawson

She threw out a bottle of perfume the twins had given her for Christmas one year, the name of which - Ambush - had made her father laugh out loud ...

A new novel by Mary Lawson is always a pleasure. Like Anne Tyler she writes about families out of step with each other and her literary landscape is always Northern Ontario in Canada. I’m re-reading Mary Lawson’s three earlier novels before I start A Town Called Solace.

My favourite Road Ends was published in 2015 and its snowy setting is the fictional town of Struan.  The novel has a warm beating heart, largely in the form of Megan the eldest daughter of a mother who can’t stop having babies and then losing interest in them when they become children.  The eldest brother Tom is struggling to cope with the suicide of his friend and instead of using his degree he opts to drive the town snowplough.  Some of the most vibrant scenes in the novel are Tom struggling to get the ancient ‘headache yellow’ snowplough to start and then rumbling down the roads of Struan with ‘the new snow flying off the blade of the plough in a great soft arc.’

Megan has the household pretty much buttoned down, cooking, cleaning, laundry, organising her mother, keeping her younger brothers under control and loving and caring for her smallest brother Adam. It is when she decides to leave for London that this outwardly respectable but deeply troubled family start to fall apart. The dopey mother and wilfully blind father can’t seem address the benign neglect of little Adam but as Lawson weaves their narratives together you begin to understand the reasons for their behaviour.

Lawson is wonderful on the London of the late 1960s and 21 year old Megan’s experiences as an outsider in the world of Mick Jagger, bedsits, mini skirts, Carnaby Street and sexual freedom. I am looking forward to starting A Town Called Solace.

Anyone else vaguely remember a perfume by Dana called Ambush